Washington Watch

Oct. 1, 2012

New Boss, Bottom Line

It’s important to take care of airmen, respect the contributions of the Guard and Reserve, and take pride in the Air Force, but none of that counts as much as victory, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said in his first remarks after taking the helm of the service.

At the Aug. 10 ceremony where he succeeded Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Welsh laid down some pragmatic markers for his tenure as USAF’s top uniformed leader, offering a broad preview of what he considers important. Readiness and modernization, for example, are high on the list of things that will get close attention on his watch.

“I believe success is all about people and pride and performance, and I will insist we walk the talk when it comes to taking care of the people we’re privileged to lead,” Welsh said at the JB Andrews, Md., ceremony. However, “we can never afford to forget that the only bottom line in this business is performance. No one will care how well we treated our people if we lose the next war.”

Welsh forecast an evenhanded approach to jointness and advocacy. He gave cooperation its due but also indicated he won’t hesitate to speak up for USAF’s unique capabilities and the need to sustain them. Joint operations, he said, “are the only way we will succeed on the battlefield. If you plan to criticize one of our sister services, don’t let me hear you,” he warned, adding that coalition operations “are the only way we can be successful on the planet. We need to be great at both.”

While Welsh disavowed the idea that “any one service is more important than another,” he said now that he’s the Chief, “I’ll tell you honestly that I believe the future of the United States of America is in large part an air, space, and cyber future, and without a well-trained, well-equipped, capable, and credible Air Force, our nation will simply not be able to project or protect its power and interests in the future. Our job is to make sure we can.”

No one else, Welsh said, “can bring what we bring to the fight, and every real warfighter knows that. Don’t ever doubt yourself or this service.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) had held up Welsh’s confirmation because of concerns about sexual abuse by drill instructors at JB Lackland, Tex. Cornyn lifted the hold on Welsh’s confirmation after meeting with the general and pronouncing himself satisfied that Welsh would address the problem and apply every resource to prevent its recurrence.

In his Andrews speech, Welsh suggested “resiliency” issues would be a priority for him: “When it comes to airmen resiliency, to suicide prevention, to sexual assault prevention and response, I believe you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. There is no middle ground.”

Welsh set three priorities on which the service must stay “consistently focused.”

First is to “win the fight: today’s fight, the one that starts next week, the one that starts next month, or the one that starts next year.” Readiness and training, he said, “are not optional.”

Second, USAF must do its part to “strengthen the team” at all levels: the Air Force, its families, “the joint team, the coalition team, the interagency team.” Collectively, he asserted, “our mission statement is to fight and win the nation’s wars,” and in pursuit of that goal, the team “will never be strong enough.”

Third, “we have to shape the future, and that will require innovative thinking and different approaches to problems, and it will require modernization.”

The Air Force is and will continue to be a model of Total Force integration, Welsh said, with Guard and Reserve airmen operating seamlessly alongside Active Duty forces around the world.

“They expect us to do the same back here, and I commit myself to doing exactly that,” Welsh promised. “I believe every member of our Air Force family is critically important to our success and each of them deserves to be treated that way.”

Syria Isn’t Libya

The situation in Syria, though similar in many ways to Libya’s last year, is different enough that intervention in Syria would be far more problematic, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander R. Vershbow said in August.

A number of countries have urged a NATO move to protect Syrian civilians from their own military in a fashion similar to the steps taken in Libya: the establishment of a no-fly zone or perhaps a “protective zone” on the ground inside Syria where noncombatants could go to escape the fighting.

Vershbow, speaking with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., maintained that NATO hasn’t been tasked to do any planning for a Syrian intervention—and isn’t.

However, he acknowledged the many parallels between conditions in Syria now and the conditions in Libya in March of 2011: A dictator who supports terrorism is killing his own people, and beleaguered citizens are imploring the world to step in to protect them. The oppressed citizenry has taken up arms, but is grossly outmatched by government forces.

“Clearly the scale of the brutality” by the Syrian military “has surpassed that in Libya,” Vershbow acknowledged.

However, whereas it was clear in Libya where the opposition forces were—under siege in Benghazi—and where the loyalist forces were, no such clear boundaries exist in Syria, Vershbow said.

There is “no clear sort of division” between the loyalist and opposition forces in Syria, Vershbow said. “This is predominantly an urban conflict. … You could do more collateral damage than good” if NATO attempted to strike Syrian forces from the air in protection of civilians.

Just as with Libya, establishing a no-fly zone would require a preliminary round of air strikes against command and control sites, surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery positions, and other elements of Syria’s air defense network. This, as well as any effort to establish a safe zone on the ground, would be a de facto declaration of war on Syria.

Syria’s defenses are “more formidable” than Libya’s, Vershbow said, though they’re nothing NATO “couldn’t handle.”

There’s also no UN mandate to go into Syria, Vershbow pointed out. While the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council were “actively requesting outside military intervention” in Libya and contributed forces to action there, there’s been no such request regarding Syria, he said.

At the end of August, NATO’s chief concern regarding Syria, Vershbow said, was the protection of its member, Turkey, which saw one of its aircraft shot down near the Syrian border and which continues to be swarmed with refugees from the conflict.

Even setting aside whether there is political will to act in Syria, NATO is still in the process of recuperating from the Libyan campaign, Vershbow said. NATO forces “began to see their stocks of precision guided munitions rapidly being depleted” during the Libyan action, he said, but he declined to comment directly on whether the stocks of air weapons had been replenished.

Rather, Vershbow offered that NATO members “recognize their responsibility” to have enough munitions on hand for “the next one, whatever it might be.” Stocks are supposed to be refilled “even within the budgetary constraints that most allies are operating under,” he said.

NATO is to report to its defense ministers this month with a “lessons learned” report about the Libyan campaign, Vershbow revealed, and among the issues it will address are the proper levels of munitions to have on hand, as well as their “qualitative characteristics,” he said. The shortfalls in Libya centered around precision guided weapons; the US was compelled to draw on its own stocks to equip NATO partners.

Looking to Share

The lessons learned—or at least “lessons identified,” if not learned—from Libya also include a need for a better harmonized NATO intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network, Vershbow said, as well as the need for a more robust aerial refueling capability among NATO’s European partners.

The European Union is already looking into creating a tanker consortium to address this requirement, he noted. During the Libyan campaign, the US carried “the lion’s share of the load” with regard to aerial tanking, using assets it could barely spare given the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.

There are two precedents for shared NATO resources; one is the NATO E-3 AWACS program, in which the Alliance owns the aircraft and member countries provide the crew. The other is a consortium of both NATO and non-NATO countries that have collectively purchased three C-17s.

The multinational C-17 consortium works “kind of like a time-share arrangement,” Vershbow said, in which members get to use the aircraft for a number of hours each month proportionate to their investment or contribution. He didn’t know if such an agreement would work for aerial refueling, but it could be “similar,” he allowed. Since an aerial refueling consortium would likely remain an EU initiative, the resulting tanker fleet could be used for “EU-led” or “NATO-led” operations.

Knitting NATO’s ISR efforts more closely together would be a tougher nut to crack, given the varied systems in use—some of which are incompatible with others—and the national restraints on what is releasable and who would have access.

Vershbow said the US and France are spearheading the ISR initiative, which aims to build up “both the network infrastructure to integrate national ISR capabilities, plus NATO-owned capabilities like the AWACS.” NATO will acquire an Alliance Ground Surveillance aircraft to perform its own ground moving target capability in the form of Global Hawk aircraft, and Britain and France have pledged use of their own remotely piloted aircraft as a “contribution in kind” rather than cash, Vershbow said. This would be “sort of a new example of NATO common funding.”

Broadly, though, Vershbow said “this is a case where the allies have recognized the need to pool their resources and build both the hardware and the software” needed to genuinely integrate their operations and knowledge.

Vershbow said European allies aren’t terribly distressed about the US’s much ballyhooed “strategic pivot” to the Pacific theater. While they were initially dismayed by the US rhetoric, they have since grown more comfortable with US plans, he said. For one thing, he said, the NATO allies are confident the US “can walk and chew gum at the same time,” meaning it can manage both theaters. Furthermore, a beefed-up US presence in the Pacific helps NATO allies that also depend on the region for commerce.

“They know … it benefits them, too,” he said. Reductions of US forces from Europe also will be somewhat gradual, not immediate.

A greater US involvement in the Pacific could bode well for NATO. Innovations such as rotational schemes, where US forces deploy to Europe for periodic visits and more relevant exercises, mean “we can potentially do more with less,” he said.